"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life." Confucius said it. Ed Conway lives it. He’s a 75-year-old dynamo who is the executive director of the Lakeview Community Action Committee and an announcer for Road Atlanta, Road America, Sports Car Club of America, and Historic Sports Car Racing.
"I believe all my previous jobs have helped me prepare for what I’m doing now," said Conway. That’s a load of preparation since he’s experienced more career reincarnations than the average person has in several lifetimes.His career trajectory began right after high school in Cleveland, Ohio, when he joined the Marines and was stationed in the Mojave desert in a "holding pattern because a cease fire had just been issued between the U.S. and Korea." After a three year stint, he briefly stayed in California playing jazz and toyed with the idea of enrolling in music school. "But my lack of actual talent got in the way."
Conway headed to Atlanta to visit his father who had retired to Conyers, which was then just a little hamlet east of the city, and his visit morphed into a 50-plus year stay. He lived in Atlanta working in the insurance industry until his company merged with another that resulted in a lucrative offer in Tampa, Fla. He did the next "logical thing" by declining, and instead, joined the Atlanta Police Department for a four year stint during the turbulent 1960s.
Next up was a radio broadcasting stint for 5,000 watt station in Buford. In the mornings he would sell advertising for the station and then write his copy before disc jockeying in the afternoons.
Meanwhile, after his father remarried and relocated, he offered Conway his trailer and land in Lakeview Estates. Conway wasn’t much interested in relocating to the wilds of Conyers, but he decided to fix the place up to sell it. In the process, he was stunned by how many neighbors had pitched in to help. Far from putting it on the market, before long, he became the president of the homeowner’s association.
In the last 30 years, the demographics in Lakeview have dramatically changed. Centered by the lake, it’s a neighborhood of 650 acres with over 700 mobile homes and 4,000 mostly Latino residents. Though most residents are hard-working laborers in the construction and restaurant industries, they earn very little, thus the need for the Lakeview Community Action Committee.
Funded primarily by the United Way, the committee provides facilities for a medical and community center. In addition to facilitating various organizations’ efforts on Lakeview’s behalf, Conway runs the Learning Center, or "homework club", that furnishes a place for the children to do their work with a bi-lingual paraprofessional.
Conway and wife, Patricia, still live in Lakeview. "It cements my credibility with folks," he says, "I love the vibrant atmosphere."
"I was always searching for something that was missing because I was focused on me, when I started doing things for others the reward was things started falling into place for me."
Gloria Dyer knew she had found her calling when she found herself in the garden at dinner time, still dressed her nightgown. The normally proper, put-together woman had spent the entire day in the garden, from sunrise to sunset, lost in the joy of tending to living, beautiful things.
"My son told me that everyone had a unique talent. When you discover that talent, you go into what is called timeless awareness. So when I discovered I could spend the entire day in the garden and it didn’t even seem like I was out there, there was something there that I really enjoyed doing," she said.
Friends and family had noted her skill with floral arrangements before. And after three decades in the corporate world, first as an auditor and then in company restructuring, Dyer had enough of the stress and wanted to find something relaxing to retire to.
"That was the idea," she said with a laugh. "But it’s no different from any other business. That’s the funny thing about the flower business. It’s beautiful to work with, but the business structure is still the same."
She started her floral arranging business from her home in 2000 and opened her flower and gift shop on Salem Road in 2003, which she operates today with her daughter, Tanya, and several other employees.
"It’s labor intensive, but it keeps you healthy and physically fit. You meet different people, and you don’t have as much stress," she said. "And it’s a joy. You have so much joy just creating beautiful things for beautiful people. "
As testimony to her tenaciousness, Jean Yontz forged a functional family business, Glenn’s Open Pit Barbeque, despite the odds. Roughly 80 percent of new restaurants fail within the first year, and it stands to reason that 22 years ago the odds were even greater, taking into account that she and her husband Glenn had no prior restaurant experience. They decided to take the plunge when Glenn’s career demands at AT&T would have required them to move. After 18 years, they closed the original location in 2005 when Jean describes the "restaurant rush to Rockdale" occurred .
Most would consider this a well-deserved break. But most aren’t Jean Yontz. Not only is she a mother of four and grandmother of 10, she has also served on the Rockdale County school board for nine years. She’s also served as the executive director for the Rockdale Medical Center Foundation and is heavily involved with the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation to prevent breast cancer.
Her passion for hometown knows no bounds. "We’ve invested heavily in this community for 27 years, and it’s really our local entrepreneurs that support fundraising efforts and are the backbone of a bedroom community," she said. During the re-launch of Glenn’s Barbeque at the new location this year near Ga. Highway 138, it was critical to her that they use local contractors and local businesses.
Even though her son, Glenn Jr., is helming the restaurant’s reinvention, Jean remains heavily involved, some days putting in nine hours or more. She’s drawn back to "the one on one impact on individual lives you have in this business." After a four year hiatus, it "spoke volumes" to her that even in the transitory wait staff world, they have 10 former employees that returned to the restaurant. She was also incredibly moved by all the Facebook comments from former customers when they re-opened. "We like the people that eat with us to become family," she says.
Up next for Mrs. Yontz? She has three more years remaining in her current term as a school board member, and one grandson is campaigning that she run again to see him through his graduation at Heritage High School, where three of her children matriculated. Odds are that she will. "I wouldn’t trade my life for anything."